Dr. Dieter Poenn named a Canadian Family Physician of the Year

Dr. Dieter Poenn takes a moment out from his duties to chat with The Expositor in his office at the Little Current Family Health Team clinic on Monday. photo by Michael Erskine

Member of Northeast Manitoulin Family Health Team honoured provincially and nationally

TORONTO—It would be no exaggeration to say that Dr. Dieter Poenn of Little Current is one of the most respected physicians on Manitoulin, but this week both Ontario and the entire nation will be joining the College of Family Physicians of Canada in recognizing Dr. Poenn as one of Canada’s Family Physicians of the Year.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) had named Dr. Poenn of Little Current to the regional nomination as a Family Physician of the year, and then he was selected as the province’s 2018 Reg L. Perkin Family Physician of the Year.

This award is the OCFP’s highest honour and is presented annually to a family doctor who makes a significant impact for their patients.

Each nominee must be a CFPC member who has been in good standing for at least one year and is a skilled clinician.

Candidates for the award may be recognized for providing exceptional care to their patients and making meaningful contributions to the health and well-being of their communities and/or be recognized for their dedication as researchers and educators of future generations of family doctors. Each nominee must be community based and act as a resource to a practice population and candidates must recognize the central importance of the doctor-patient relationship. Nominees are not eligible if they have received this award in the past three years.

Each of the CFPC’s provincial chapters selects a Family Physician of the Year and all CFPC members are invited to submit nominations for Canada’s Family Physicians of the Year. Health care colleagues, community leaders and patients are encouraged to submit letters of support for these nominations. Nominations are submitted to the office of the provincial chapter of which the nominee is a member. A selection committee makes the decision on who will be so honoured.

“Working in rural and remote areas is one of the most difficult jobs in Canadian medicine. One requires a high-level of expertise, broad skill set, excellent interpersonal skills, and leadership abilities,” said W. E. Osmun MD, associate professor emeritus at Western University. “Fortunately for Manitoulin Island, Dr. Poenn has all these attributes.”

“We were very happy that he got the award,” said Dr. Stephen Cooper, who works with Dr. Poenn at the Northeastern Manitoulin Family Health Team and as chief of staff at the Manitoulin Health Centre. “He is a very capable, competent physician and throughout his career he has demonstrated his ability. His skill set and knowledge make him stand above. He is a silent leader, not an in-your-face kind of guy, but he knows what is right and what is the right thing to do in just about every situation.”

That is a refrain that was oft repeated by Dr. Cooper’s colleagues across Manitoulin Island.

“Dr. Poenn is wonderful,” said Gore Bay’s Dr. Shelagh McRae. “He has served the community for a long time and is most collegial with doctors in other communities. He also takes fitness very seriously and he practices what he preaches.”

“It is an award very well deserved,” agreed Gore Bay’s Dr. Robert Hamilton. “He has also been involved in teaching for many, many years.”

“It really was a delight to hear the good news and that the members of the selection committee had made such an excellent choice,” said Mindemoya’s Dr. Maurianne Reade, herself a 2016 Regional Family Physician of the Year. “As a rural physician, Dr. Poenn has practiced the full range of practice.” She noted that for some two decades, Dr. Poenn has served as a coroner on Manitoulin as well. “He has served as an important role model for the (Northern School of Medicine) medical students,” she added.

Dr. Roy Jeffery noted that Dr. Poenn’s own special interest in sports medicine has been a tremendous asset when Dr. Poenn teaches the muscular-skeletal ailments segment of the medical students’ curriculum. “This is extremely important when you consider that 30 percent of the issues presented to rural family doctors are muscular-skeletal in nature. He does such an excellent job because of his special interest.”

Dr. Jeffery agreed with the assessment of Dr. Poenn as a quiet leader. “He takes a strong ethical approach,” he said.

For his part, Dr. Poenn was characteristically low key, preferring to cite the work of his colleagues as being every bit as worthy of recognition.

“I am very flattered, of course,” he said. “You spend quite a bit of time working in the trenches in an underserviced area and sometimes you wonder if anybody notices. It is very gratifying to have the Canadian College take notice. But I wouldn’t regard myself as anything special, any one of us working here at the clinic would be deserving of this award. But I admit I do feel somewhat vindicated and I am obviously thrilled. But it is what we do in rural medicine, so I am not all that unique.”

The award announcements kick off Family Doctor Week in Canada, which runs from November 12 to 17, and provides an opportunity to acknowledge the vital work family physicians do to help keep Ontarians healthy, notes the release announcing the award.

Named in honour of Dr. Reg L. Perkin, College of Family Physicians of Canada executive director from 1985 to 1996, this award is the OCFP’s highest honour. The recipient is chosen from among the OCFP’s seven Regional Family Physician of the Year award winners, one from each region in Ontario, who are recognized for providing exemplary care to their patients and are passionately involved in activities that contribute to excellence in family medicine. Dr. Poenn is also the regional award recipient for Ontario’s Northeast and Northwest.

The citation release notes that “during his 30-year career, Dr. Poenn has provided all facets of rural medicine—from his office-based practice and the emergency department and in-patient care at the Manitoulin Health Centre, to the Wiikwemkoong Health Center and the Manitoulin Centennial Manor.

“A compassionate physician with unlimited patience, Dr. Poenn was an early advocate for interprofessional collaboration. His support for nurse practitioners ultimately allowed him to be instrumental in establishing Manitoulin’s first family health team. Extending the scope of this team to involve physician assistants has further enhanced the delivery of care in his community. For Dr. Poenn, collaborating with and maintaining practices on the local First Nations of Wiikwemkoong and Aundeck Omni Kaning has also been a career-long priority.     

“Dr. Poenn is also as committed to learning as he is to teaching, pursuing extra training to provide the Island community with endoscopy, sports medicine, coroner services as well as nursing home care. He has trained students throughout his entire career, initially with the University of Ottawa and later with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. As a result, many regional physicians have been learners in his clinic. More than a doctor, Dr. Poenn is a community builder who enjoys helping others experience the beauty of Manitoulin. A ski, hockey and kayak coach, he has helped build and financially contribute to maintaining local hiking trails for residents and visitors, along with his colleagues. Dr. Poenn is the proud father of four young adults who are also pursuing careers dedicated to helping others.”

The Reg L. Perkin award will be presented by Dr. Jennifer Young, incoming OCFP President at the OCFP’s President’s Installation and Awards Ceremony held on November 14. A second award ceremony will take place on Friday, November 16, where Dr. Poenn will receive the national honours.

“We have been teasing him about the award for weeks now,” laughed Dr. Cooper, “he is going to have to give speeches.”

Dr. Poenn admits that he does feel a bit out of water with the whole awards ceremony thing. “Not only do I have to stand up in front of a large audience of doctors,” he chuckles, “but they expect me to give a speech.”

But Dr. Poenn is now ensconced in an august company with some very special people, including the late Dr. Jack Bailey of Little Current, who was honoured as Canadian Family Physician of the Year in 1989.

Something tells The Expositor that Dr. Poenn will sail through this latest challenge with the same calm aplomb with which he deals with issues in the Little Current Family Health Team clinic or in attending to crises in emerg at the Manitoulin Health Centre.